Many of our clients are recruiters and hiring managers working in government, both at the state and federal level. Often, recruitment practices are hampered or should I say 'hamstrung' due to policy and procedures. This often results in a process that takes way too long and sees too many good candidates lost along the way. These cumbersome processes cause a lot of stress for both recruiters, hiring managers and candidates! If only there was a quicker and easier way...
Some government recruitment practices are so entrenched that it’s a challenge to separate fact from fiction. HR may even argue the case, but they often have no basis in legislation, Awards or Agreements; they have just been manufactured over many, many years of government.
Let’s separate fact from fiction once and for all!
Yes, we want a fair and transparent process. And yes, we must hire on merit. However this can actually be achieved in a much simpler and quicker way. Many of the processes that government employees insist on are actually myths, so they don’t have to be followed.
If you look at the legislation and employment directives, you’ll find that all that is legislated is a fair and transparent process. This simply means that people must have a chance to see the role and apply, and are treated equally. There is nothing about panels, panel interviews, selection reports, delegate approvals, the list goes on.
Here is how we can help you to separate fact from fiction, and save some precious time and resources in government recruitment, all while reducing stress levels in the process.
Note: Even non-government organisations (NGOs) sometimes have these enchenched recruitment practices, especially the university sector - so the following content applies to them as well.
We have broken it down into the full recruitment journey. From putting together the selection panel, through to developing the job description, advertising, shortlisting, the selection process, referee reports and selection reports, we’ve got you covered.
Share this resource with your colleagues and peers in government recruitment teams and, together, we can bust some of these misinformed beliefs once and for all.
While it's seen by many as an effective way to create a fair and equitable recruitment process, there's no guarantee that by dictating the gender, seniority level and size of the selection panel that a fair and equitable selection process will be undertaken.
Legislative requirements also do not prescribe the panel mix that must be adhered to when putting together a selection panel.
The mix of people employed for each selection panel may be determined by the Chair of the selection panel. The Chair needs to ensure they select the panel members in way that is seen to be fair and reasonable.
And rather than relying on a prescribed gender mix, panel size or seniority mix within the panel, the Chair should select panel members based on their collective ability to identify the best candidate for the role in question.
Whilst it's imperative that each applicant is treated fairly and offered the same opportunities to address how they satisfy the job-related requirements of the role, it's unrealistic (and not legislatively required) that members of the selection panel have no prior knowledge of applicants.
In some government departments, panel members may be required to sign a conflict of interest form (even current managers) in advance, just to show prior relationships and fairness, but this does not mean they are ineligible to sit on the panel or be objective in their assessment.
Some jurisdictions may require advertising of permanent or fixed-term jobs over 12 months in government publications and jobs board websites. After being advertised, these job roles often need to remain open for a specified period of time. However, other than this requirement, there are no restrictions on where else you can advertise!
There is no limit as to where you can advertise. Have you considered Facebook? What about LinkedIn? Or specialist and niche job boards? All are valid potential communications mediums as long as they fit within your budget.
IMPORTANT NOTE - While you're not limited to where you can advertise, it's important to consider which advertising opportunities offer value for money. Also in today's digitally connected society, don’t forget to use your personal and professional networks to get the word out. Get onto the social media platforms, like and share the advertisement, and get the hiring managers to do the same.
If you read the Australian Public Service Commission's Merit Principles, it all centres around the premise that the opportunity was advertised. This means that the vacancy is fair for all people to apply (a level playing field - not a nepotism club of shoulder-tapping alone). To quote, “all eligible members of the community are given a reasonable opportunity to apply” and “an assessment is made of the relative suitability of candidates, using a competitive selection process”.
So where and how you advertise is up to you. It it is not legislated.
Think laterally when it comes to advertising and promoting a vacancy.
Again, this is a fairly standard government practice where candidates are asked to write a few pages on how they meet the selection criteria specified in an advert or the position description.
However this is fairly old fashioned. Governments are now moving to short form applications - e.g. one page instead of four pages to address selection criteria, or none at all. In many cases a CV and cover letter will suffice.
This is very common practice in commercial enterprise (no selection criteria to be addressed) - just a short application form.
In a candidate tight market employers need to make it super easy (not hard) for applicants to apply. Otherwise, they won’t apply. External candidates (non-government) also don’t even know what this is or what they have to do – to “address” criteria. So, this practice effectively builds a barrier to getting new people (talent) into government roles.
Gone are the days of addressing selection criteria!
As long as the role has been advertised (e.g. all people have a chance to see and apply for the vacancy), you are free to approach suitable candidates who you think will be a good fit for the role and encourage them to apply. After they apply, they must go through the same fair assessment process to secure the role, so the selection process remains fair for all candidates.
When competition for quality job applicants is fierce you should use your personal and professional contacts and networks to put the word out about your vacancy. You cannot offer someone the job without advertising or following a hiring process, but you can ask good quality candidates to consider applying for it. In fact, not doing so with suitable candidates is actually doing a disservice to your responsibility in spending public money to find the best person to perform the duties of a particular role.
Also don’t forget that if you have a niche or difficult-to-fill role, the ability to invite potential candidates to apply could be the difference between a successful hire and a fruitless search for candidates.
You don't need to interview all internal applicants. In fact, this can be a big waste of time and money (yes, I am a taxpayer). It’s important to remember that just because a person who already works within the department applies for another job within the same department, it doesn’t mean they are, by default, right for the job.
Only shortlist and interview candidates who are seriously good for the role and are competitive for the job. Don’t be afraid to reject internal applicants if they are not skilled or appropriate for the position. Bringing new skills and capability into government is a good thing. Hiring on merit is about skills and competence, not about tenure or “being nice” to internal staff!
Shortlisted applicants should be able to demonstrate in their application, and on their CV, their ability to meet the selection criteria. If you have seven candidates that meet the criteria - pick the best three. These are the people to interview. A shortlist of seven is not a shortlist (it's a long list and a big waste of time). You are still being fair - e.g. assessing them against the same criteria and written application stage.
IMPORTANT NOTE - Internal applicants who are not shortlisted should be informed of the decision as to why they were not shortlisted prior to the interviews occurring. Don’t be afraid to make decisions based on facts and evidence. This is especially so when non-shortlisted internal applicants are in the same business unit or area. You may have to explain why they didn’t make the cut. This is good practice and good feedback for them - e.g. where are the areas where they need further development and why did their application fall short against the market?
Yes - all external and internal applicants should be assessed using the same shortlisting methods and criteria, but this doesn’t mean everyone has to be interviewed.
Interviews are just one of many selection and assessment options which may be used. By the same token, a fair selection decision can be made without an interview forming part of the recruitment process.
Sometimes an interview is not a good indicator of future on-the-job performance. Interviews may lead to a cohort of applicants being disadvantaged. Extroverts may do better. Those with neurodiverse backgrounds or introverts may not do as well. People from non-English speaking backgrounds may find it more difficult to convey complex concepts even when they have a sound understanding of them. Some people with disabilities and humble people may struggle to 'sell themselves' at an interview. People living with anxiety may also not perform well with an interview and panel format when compared to other assessment methods. Other selection and assessment methods can also be used, such as tests, work placements, online assessment centres and written exercises.
Ultimately you should use the right mix of selection and assessment methods to find someone who can perform well in the role they have applied for. There is no point in hiring a candidate who interviews exceptionally if they don't have the appropriate skills and capabilities to perform well in the role. Keep this in mind when considering how much weighting you apply to the formal interview.
When deciding what questions to ask at interviews, you should be focusing on how you can best identify the right competencies and behaviours for the role, then design questions that will provide useful information to the panel. Asking the same questions of each applicant will not necessarily help you achieve this goal. You should ask applicants for any other information that will help you to assess the applicant against the selection criteria.
For example - yes, ask all candidates about teamwork. But the probing questions that you ask next, depending on the candidate's initial response, may vary. Each candidate is unique, and their answers will all be very different. All of their responses are relevant and, irrespective of the questions you ask, you are still assessing the candidate based on the competencies and behaviours you're looking for in the role.
The fact that this myth has endured, and is very strong in some workplaces, suggests that interviews have ceased to be a way of finding out the most useful information from each applicant. They have instead become a box-ticking exercise on a ‘right or wrong answer’ (limited) approach. This narrow approach to interviews doesn't allow candidates to shine (or provide further evidence of their appropriateness for the role).
If you do choose to undertake interviews, the selection panel should use a structured interview approach including behaviourally-based questions (and the interviewers should be trained in this technique). This means that all applicants would be asked the same core questions, but then depending on their response could be asked any number of further 'probing' questions to ensure the panel gains all relevant information for making an informed recruitment decision.
As highlighted in the previous example, you can and should prompt applicants to respond to questions during interviews if it is required. How can you be expected to discover all of an applicant’s abilities and skills if you’re unable to probe for additional information during the interview?
Interviews can be a particularly intense and stressful situation, so may not be conducive to getting the best out of every applicant. But this doesn’t mean that the applicant isn’t suitable for the role. You should aim to make the interview process an inviting and open forum. If an applicant is lost for words, and a simple prompt is all that is needed to get them back on track, you should assist them. One way of doing this would be to re-phrase the question in a different way to ensure the candidate understands what you're asking.
As you’ve no doubt already recognised from the previous sections of this article, selection processes tend to be unique to the job in question so there is rarely a one-size fits all approach. There is no requirement to get written referee check.
It is actually good practice to have a phone conversation with referees as it allows for genuine two-way communication. Use behaviourally-based questions in your reference check call with the referee. Probe on any areas of concern that were raised at the interview.
Reference checks are not a 'tick box' exercise, but are an important verification check in the process around what the applicant has 'claimed' in their abilities or past experiences.
I always recommend doing two (not one) reference checks and also ask for different, more relevant referees if the ones provided don't feel or look appropriate. This is allowed.
In consideration of the Privacy Act I would always ask the candidate for nominated referees and permission to approach them. I’d also have a script for recruiters and let referees know that the feedback they provide in the reference check may be given to the candidate (if requested).
Internal non-nominated referees such as their current manager can be contacted (and is good practice for internal moves), provided that the applicant knows in advance and is given the opportunity to address any issues that may arise.
I would never use social media (e.g. Facebook posts) as a source of a reference check. Yes, this may be public information, but it provides very little in respect to the individual's ability to do the job.
Most government selection processes are made up of four key components
Although none of this is written in stone (e.g. you done 'have' to do any of these), the reference check is an important stage thought to check people are who they say they are and do have the credentials and the experience claimed.
In government recruitment processes I often see all candidates shortlisted or interviewed, then reference checked. Why? This never happens in commercial enterprises - only in government - and again another myth.
They are a final check. Only reference check the one candidate you wish to offer the role to or who are suitable for the role. Again, it is not legislated to do more. Reference checking everyone who has been interviewed is a big waste of time (in my mind) and taxpayer money by the government, if only one person is to be offered the position.
A referee check is exactly that - a check to verify capability and credentials. However, they should never be a 'comparison tool' to select the best applicant. I’ve seen this done in government and it is a bad practice.
The feedback provided by referees in reference checks are subjective by their very nature. Consider this - if you try to use references as a comparison tool, what you are trying to compare is different candidates, in different roles, at different stages of their career, at different dates, from different organisations, with feedback provided by different managers (some referees may be friends or positive, others may be negative in nature). This is all subjective.
So never compare reference checks - only use them to verify the candidate’s capability and career history. Two reference checks on the final one candidate is enough.
The selection report must provide enough information for the delegate to make an informed and fair decision. Record gathering and record keeping throughout the process is important, but you don't need to repeat everything in the selection report.
The selection report is essentially looking to demonstrate why the preferred candidate got the position (ranked first), while other candidates ranked lower, and why. It must demonstrate that the correct process was followed, that it was fair to all applicants and the evidence-based criteria helped you (or a panel) to arrive at your selection. As long as it achieves this, your report can be short!
Although an official record – the selection report need not be ‘war and peace’; it must simply demonstrate with rigour, the process followed and the evidence-based selection decision to arrive at your selection. So, it can be a summary and short!
Obviously, some aspects about your level of details depends on the final approver of the report (often known as the delegate) and what they expect to see. So, have a chat with the final approver before completing the selection report to get clarity on their expectations for the level of detail provided.
I hope you found this resource useful for you and your teams. This may help to improve your processes and save precious time and frustrations, plus help you to attract and hire the best candidates.
Yes, processes need to be followed and must be fair and transparent. And yes, we must hire on merit. However, this doesn’t mean many extra steps by government employees and restrictive practices need to be followed. There is no requirement to interview! No requirement for a panel!
If you look at the legislation and employment directives relating to government recruitment, you’ll find that all it is about is a fair and transparent process, not the number or type of person on the panel or the length and complexity of the selection report.
Caution: Legislation, Awards and Agreements do vary by state and federal governments, agencies and employers - so do check your local legislation or directives and policies.
However when you do, you might be surprised that most of the above ingrained government recruitment processes are, in fact, fiction!
If you have any questions about the information I've provided above, or you would like to discuss your government or general recruitment needs, contact me and I'll be happy to assist.
Thanks goes to the Tasmanian State Government for their Right Job, Right Person framework developed by DPAC and for their Recruitment Myths Busted article that inspired this broader article. We have been working with them to train their hiring managers to separate fact from fiction when it comes to government recruitment practices.